By Victoria Milko Associated Press and Dita Alangkara Associated Press, abcnewsgo.com, October 1, 2023,
Demand for critical minerals like nickel and cobalt is surging as climate change hastens a transition to renewable energy, boosting carbon emissions by miners and processors of such materials
SOROWAKO, Indonesia — Red hot sparks fly through the air as a worker in a heat-resistant suit pokes a long metal rod into a nickel smelter, coaxing the molten metal from a crucible at a processing facility on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
The smelter run by global mining firm Vale and powered by electricity from three dams churns out 75,000 tons of nickel a year for use in batteries, electric vehicles, appliances and many other products.
While the smelting creates heavy emissions of greenhouse gases, the power used is relatively clean. Such possible reductions in emissions come as demand for critical minerals like nickel and cobalt is surging as climate change hastens a transition to renewable energy.
Mining operations account for some 4%-7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to global consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But some miners are moving to reduce use of fossil fuels in extracting and refining, partly due to pressure from downstream customers that want more sustainable supply chains.
Located beside a crystal-blue lake in the lush jungle of Sorowako, South Sulawesi, Vale Indonesia — a subsidiary of Vale international — runs its smelters entirely from hydroelectricity. Vale says that can reduce its emissions by over 1.115 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, compared to using diesel. Vale claims it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions nearly a fifth since 2017.
As demand for materials needed for batteries, solar panels and other components vital for cutting global emissions rises, carbon emissions by miners and refiners will likewise rise unless companies actively work to decarbonize.